When I read Ann Patchett’s recent non-fiction collection This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, I was dazzled by her skill, which drove me to her fiction, beginning with her 1992 debut novel, The Patron Saint of Liars.
The Patron Saint of Liars centers on Rose, raised alone in the ‘60s by her beautiful mother who works to support her little girl and herself after her husband dies in a traffic accident. Rose becomes an unusually self-contained young woman, even more beautiful than her mother. She drifts into marriage with a man who loves her greatly, but she is a vaguely discontented young bride who spends her days driving up and down the California coast while her husband teaches at the local high school. When Rose discovers she is pregnant, she drives away from her home, her mother, and her marriage, to St. Elizabeth’s, a Kentucky home for unwed mothers, run by a group of nuns. Concealing the fact that she is married, Rose begins her life in the community the way all the other girls there do, planning to relinquish the baby after it’s born. But Rose makes a place for herself at St. Elizabeth’s, in a series of decisions that have repercussions for everyone in her life.
The story unfolds from different characters’ perspectives, and we come to know the most important people in Rose’s new life. But Rose remains enigmatic to those around her—and to the reader. This didn’t feel to me like a flaw in the novel, however. Sometimes people are opaque to us, regardless of how closely we may live with them. Despite Rose’s opaqueness and her lies, the people around Rose love her, and the examination of the nature of love lies at the heart of this deft and tender novel.
P.S. You can see my review as well for This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.